Fibre Optic Lighting
Fibre Optic Lighting opens up a world of possibilities for designers, architects and DIY installers. Starscape offers a range of interesting and innovative products from simple Star Ceiling kits to our high-end Infinity modular star ceiling system.
We use professional grade optical fibre together with energy-efficient LED light sources. Fibre Optic Lighting carries no heat or electricity so it’s suitable for use in the “wet zone” or in areas where there are concerns about flammability. Another advantage is the ability to deliver light without electro-magnetic interference by locating the light source in another room many metres away from where the illumination is required.
The rapid development of LED technology in recent years has made fibre optic lighting more versatile than ever. LED-based light sources are smaller, cooler, quieter and more economical than the halogen and metal halide units which they’ve displaced. The LED-based units require less maintenance – no bulbs to change or fans to clean – and as the technology advances they are becoming brighter and brighter and offer more and more colour options.
Combining LEDs with fibre optics allows for efficient distribution of the light, so think in terms of this combination being a force multiplier.
Do explore our website which includes descriptions and photos of more than 100 assorted projects to help you understand the flexibility and possibilities of using this technology.
Some common misconceptions about fibre optics
We’re frequently contacted by potential customers asking about “fibre optic LED star ceilings” and when we enter into discussions with them we discover that they’re under the impression that there are actually LEDs (light emitting diodes) at the end of each fibre. In fact, the whole point of fibre optics is to divide the light from a single lamp into dozens or even hundreds of discrete light points.
People who think that there’s an LED at the end of each fibre also assume – logically enough – that the fibre length is fixed, but of course since the fibre is analogous to a hose carrying light rather than water, you can cut the fibre to any length and light will emerge from the new end, just as water will come from the new end of a hose if you cut it in half. This ability to cut fibres to length during installation is one of the features which make this form of lighting so versatile.
Also, because the fibres don’t generate the light, but merely transport it, you can upgrade an existing installation by simply removing the existing light source and replacing it with a more powerful or more sophisticated unit. In many cases switching from one light source to a new one may take literally just a matter of seconds, requiring no technical or electrical expertise. So, as we always tell customers, in a world where so many products quickly become obsolete fibre optics offer an open-ended upgrade path which offers the prospect of an installation becoming enhanced over the years, rather than deteriorating. As LED technology continues to develop the light sources of the future will almost certainly be brighter, more economical to run, longer-lived and offer more features than the already impressive models currently available.
At present, fibre optics are not the best solution for task lighting – except in some specific applications* – but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a house of the future might feature a central light source with multiple LEDs feeding harnesses of different fibre types running off to every part of the house. You’d have lower electricity consumption and the heat generated by the LEDs could be put to good use by locating the light source in an airing cupboard, rather than having heat from multiple light fittings dissipated in the loft. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the room lighting of the future might be incorporated in the paint on the walls and ceilings rather than being in formal light fittings!
Getting back to the basics of fibre optics, why is that they work the way they do? Well, for one thing they’re made from extremely transparent materials. So, light can pass from one end to another over several metres before it shows a noticeable reduction in intensity or quality. However, most people are less interested in this than in the simple fact that light introduced at one end of an optical fibre will stay inside it and travel around bends – for most, this is where the magic lies in fibre optics.
The key to to understanding how fibre optics work is to know that different transparent media – glass, acrylic, water and air – have different optical densities. The optical density – or refractive index – of the material affects how light moves through it and – crucially – how light behaves when it encounters the boundary between two media with different refractive indices. The fibre has a higher optical density than air and this inhibits the passage of light through the side of the fibre and into the surrounding air. A special cladding or coating enhances this effect.
One of the best-known everyday examples of a difference in refractive indices is when a stick or pole is partially submerged in water. The difference in the refractive index of the air and the water results in the stick appearing to bend as it enters the water.
In an optical fibre this refraction results in the light being reflected from the inner surface of the fibre rather than passing through into the surrounding air. At the far end of the fibre – where, additionally, there’s no cladding – the angle at which the light meets the boundary layer is such that it can escape. Fibre optics exhibit the property of “total internal reflection” although in practice the reflection will be somewhat less than total as some refracted light crosses the fibre/air boundary. If you’re interested in learning more of the technicalities of these properties of light simply google “total internal reflection” and you’ll find a wealth of resources. * In task lighting applications fibre optics tend to be more expensive than conventional LED or halogen lights. However, there are projects where the specific requirements of the situation are such that conventional lighting has major drawbacks. For instance, with modern health and safety regulations controlling all working at height, accessing light fittings in high ceilings or on high walls can involve an administrative nightmare, ensuring that the necessary equipment is to-hand and that all the safety implications are considered and resolved. Fibre optic lighting neatly sidesteps this problem by placing the light source at some distance from the light delivery. The light source is located in a safe and accessible place and there’s no need for maintenance access at the delivery end – the fibre optic spots or downlights.
So, although the initial capital costs are higher, the ongoing maintenance costs are much reduced. Having said that, as long-lived LEDs are replacing halogen and metal halide bulbs maintenance intervals are becoming longer so the argument for using fibre optics has weakened somewhat in recent years.
The ability to separate the input and output components of a lighting scheme also offer benefits in the museum lighting sector since the secure part of a display case does not need to be accessed when changing a bulb. The light source can be located above or below the secured area. There’s the added benefit in this application of reduced heat and u.v. light in the display case which can be a vital consideration with fragile ancient artifacts.
The absence of heat and electricity means that fibre optic lighting can be useful where there is concern about fire – in a paper archive for instance – or explosions – in an environment with explosive vapours or dust.
The absence of electricity in the fibre optic end fittings also means an absence of electro-magnetic emissions and there are scientific, industrial and medical environments where this is a very useful property.
We are a small team dedicated to Fibre Optics and we are all very willing to talk on the telephone,
or chat via email to help you through your fibre optic lighting project.
t: 01289 332900 e: firstname.lastname@example.org